Needs More AIPAC!

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Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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12 Responses

  1. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    Fantastic post, Mark. Thanks. And to address one thing about my remarks about AIPAC, I strongly believe in the security of Israel – I simply also strongly believe that the right approach is not to be cheerleaders to Israeli military actions against the Palestinians. This is in fact counterproductive because it leads further and further away from the possibility of peace. In this sense, while I find nothing at all “sinister” about AIPAC, I do find their influence too great and their actual peace-forging returns too small…Report

  2. Avatar Marc R
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    says:

    “This is in fact counterproductive because it leads further and further away from the possibility of peace.”

    That may be true. Or it may not be. Unfortunately, many countries only seek peace once they are convinced a military solution will not work, e.g., Egypt.Report

  3. Avatar Bob
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    says:

    I’m very much pro Israel, but also recognize Israel has done a lot to disrupt peace efforts, settlements, Gaza invasion, Lebanon War of 2006. But one thing that gives AIPAC a black eye in my book is it’s willingness to cohabit with with John Hagee’s CUFI. Hagee supports the state of Israel because 1) God established it and 2) Israel needs to exist because it is necessary to uphold End Time prophecy. AIPAC seems to have made a cynical political calculation that CUFI support is worth the ugly rhetoric of the religious right, and Pastor Hagee in particular.Report

  4. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    Worse, there really aren’t any credible interest groups that provide an opposing viewpoint to AIPAC on Middle East policy, which leaves AIPAC as the only credible interest group to whom members of Congress can turn for policy advice. To be sure, there are interest groups who offer a competing viewpoint, but they are either small and disorganized or radicals that have no discernable interest in a “safe and secure Israel.”

    This is the meat of this, I think. If there were some counterbalance to AIPAC – a really viable yin to its yang – then we wouldn’t be having this “Israel lobby” discussion because one portion of the “Israel lobby” would agree that a different approach needs to be made in resolving the conflict. It’s the singularity of purpose that’s troubling, and the unwillingness to let dissenting or opposing views into the conversation. There really is a much healthier debate going on within Israel than here on the matter, and that’s sort of absurd when you think about it.

    Bob – regarding Hagee, yes, that’s one big problem. The neocon/religious right alliance of hawkish support for Israel is really an odd, ugly pairing. Not good at all.Report

  5. Avatar Mark Thompson
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    says:

    “There really is a much healthier debate going on within Israel than here on the matter, and that’s sort of absurd when you think about it.”

    That point needs re-emphasis. Which it will get, shortly.Report

  6. Avatar Xanthippas
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    says:

    It’s not possible to have a discussion about the nature of AIPAC’s influence without mentioning the tactics they frequently engage in as part of an effort to stifle debate over our policies towards Israel and the Middle East. In fact, no one that I read who is opposed to AIPAC is so opposed solely because they find AIPAC to be entirely too influential. It is the tactics that AIPAC uses to wield it’s influence, reducing nearly every debate to charges of anti-semitism thrown at somebody, that many commentators seem to have a problem with. Without engaging that, you are essentially arguing against a strawman.Report

  7. Avatar Mark Thompson
    Ignored
    says:

    Xanthippas, two things:

    First, although the anti-semitism charge is thrown around waaaaaay too casually in our public debate over Israel (I’ve even been smeared by it for merely questioning the strategic wisdom of Israel’s actions), do you have any evidence that AIPAC is either the cause of that problem or engages in that tactic itself? I’m not saying that they have never done so, or even that they don’t regularly do so, but I cannot find any records of such an accusation being expressed by AIPAC. To be sure, criticism of AIPAC is far too-often met with absurd charges of anti-semitism; but those charges are, so far as I can tell, always or at least almost always made by other groups or people. Indeed, so far as I am aware, AIPAC’s official response to the Walt/Mearsheimer book was….silence. To be sure, I don’t doubt that AIPAC has characterized critics of its preferred policies as being “anti-Israel,” but that’s to be expected from any group that defines its polices as being “pro-” anything. E.g., pro-life groups portray anyone who disagrees with them on abortion as “anti-life”, and pro-choice groups define anyone who disagrees with them as “anti-choice.”

    And, to be perfectly honest, even if AIPAC made those charges themselves, it would still be pretty typical behavior for an interest group. Charges of racism and misogynation are often thrown around all-too casually in political debates by groups on the Left, while charges of elitism, socialism, etc. are thrown around far too casually by groups on the Right.

    So although AIPAC is an exceedingly strong and influential interest group, there really shouldn’t be anything surprising about this; that AIPAC’s tactics may include resort to hyperbole and character assassination, while unseemly and unethical, is no different from any other interest group. Environmental groups often accuse their critics of wanting children to die from (arsenic in water, lead in toys, etc.); defense conservatives often accuse their critics of being anti-troops, etc.

    Politics is a nasty, personal business – focusing on the fact that AIPAC may be nasty and personal, or that it is powerful and influential accomplishes little. What is necessary if one wishes to overcome AIPAC’s influence on Middle East policy is to build a viable rival to AIPAC to which lawmakers can credibly turn for information. I’m just not sure this is possible under our system of campaign finance laws and lobbying laws.Report

  8. Avatar Michael P.
    Ignored
    says:

    Mark,

    Thanks for one of the more thoughtful pieces about AIPAC among most of the bile that has been passed off at thoughtful commentary. A few comments. The first is that I am not convinced that AIPAC or any other interest-group, pro-Israel or not, has had that much of an influence on American policy in the Middle East. Congressional resolutions are fairly irrelevant. Presidents generally do what they think is in America’s interest. Ronald Reagan criticized Israel very strongly during Israel’s 1982 Lebanon War and sold AIWACS to Saudi Arabia despite what AIPAC or anyone else might have said. George Bush (father) convened the Madrid Peace Conference. Clinton ran after the Israelis and Palestinians probably too much. Despite much criticism of George Bush (the son), he probably voiced support for a Palestinian state more often than any other American President. People maybe didn’t like his policies or how he wanted to support the creation of such a state, but his end goal was clear. Obama is already taking steps in the Middle East (e.g. putting out feelers to Iran), which some supporters of Israel are probably upset at. My second point is that it is a myth that there is no criticism of Israel in the American Jewish community. Most of the time the organized Jewish community publicly supports the policies of whichever Israel government is in power. Speaking from my own experience as someone who has lived in Israel, been involved in Zionist youth groups, and camps for decades, there has always been lively debate among supporters of Israel. Already in the early 1970’s there were groups who even were opposing the policies of Gold Meir’s government. They were very much in the minority, as they would have also been in Israel. Today there is a relatively small number of American Jews who are truly engaged with what is going on in Israel. Most American Jews have never been to Israel and never will be. The only thing that they know about Israel is what they read in the NY Times, Washington Post, or see on TV. Also, ethnic minorities in general tend to be more conservative than the mother country, whether they be Jews, Irish, or whomever. Just skim through Joseph Thompson’s book _American Policy and Northern Ireland_ and you’ll see that the relations between the Irish government and the Irish-American community were not without tensions.Report

  9. Avatar Israel Lobby Archive
    Ignored
    says:

    If you want to do a credible analysis of AIPAC, it would be more revealing to discuss that:

    a) AIPAC exists in its present form because the US Department of Justice shut down its predecessor as a foreign agent.

    b) AIPAC has had to go to court over PAC coordination and other election law violations.

    c) AIPAC’s founder was a registered foreign agent for the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs.

    d) Two AIPAC executives are awaiting trial for espionage.

    The only countervailing force to AIPAC is strict enforcement of election law, the Foreign Agents Registration Act, the 1917 Espionage Act and the Symmington Amendment.

    If laws were enforce, US regional policy would be more representative of American interests. Right now, it resembles AIG before the crash.Report

  10. Avatar Mark Thompson
    Ignored
    says:

    Michael:

    Thank you for the compliment. Regarding your two points:

    1. That is a very good and important point that the Executive Branch tends to be less influenced by interest groups on foreign policy than Congress. Many (though by no means all) career bureaucrats have accumulated a wealth of knowledge in their experience and hardly need any interest group to help them better understand the situation. This can be both a blessing and a curse. Presidents and top appointees can be much more subject to interest group lobbying, though, since they’re still politicians first and foremost who have little more experience to draw upon than your average member of Congress (at least at the beginning). The other issue in terms of the Executive branch is that career bureacurats are deeply resistant to change, making Presidential foreign policy at least partially the result of bureaucratic inertia; additionally, there are actually very good public policy reasons why dramatic shifts in foreign policy are bad ideas even when the existing policy is known to be wrong. Indeed, one of the many problems with the Bush Administration’s foreign policy is that it represented a sizable shift in the way the US interacted with the rest of the world, creating the impression that the US is a loose cannon. No doubt AIPAC still has more influence than other foreign policy interest groups on the Executive Branch, but outside of appointments, that influence explains a pretty small part of Presidential foreign policy.

    That said, I think you underestimate the role of Congress here a bit. Although resolutions have little real-world meaning beyond symbolism, that symbolism can affect the way that other nations look at us. But the bigger issue is that Congress still controls the purse-strings and confirmations of appointees, two powers that can have big effects on foreign policy.

    2. I absolutely agree that AIPAC is not representative of the entire US Jewish community. I don’t think there are many who think that it is; those who do think that deserve the anti-Semite label. The trouble is that no one else has been able to organize in a way that can get the credibility necessary to compete with AIPAC. There are reasons for this, some of which have to do with the fact that those with less-than-absolutist views make exceedingly poor activists, and some of which have to do with lobbying restrictions. In general, though, building a successful interest group is a damned difficult task that requires a combination of luck, passion, and unity of purpose.Report

  11. Avatar Bob
    Ignored
    says:

    Mark and E.D. are very staunch in their defense of AIPAC, perhaps a well founded defense. For an alternative perspective I suggest alternet.org

    alternet is decidedly liberal, so that needs stating upfront. Searching AIPAC there will provide a different side of the coin.Report

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